Equine Therapy for Children with Autism

Person riding a brown horse

Autism, a common disorder that now affects one in 68 children, often causes speech delays, sensory processing problems, and difficulty adjusting to changes. Changes in routines, certain sounds or textures, and frustrations with communication can lead to meltdowns and stress for the whole family. Equine therapy has shown promising results in helping autistic children blossom. Many parents are amazed at the transformation their children experience when they come into contact with horses.

Emotional Connection

Children with autism can find it easier to make an emotional connection with animals. Animals don’t always use direct eye contact—something that people with autism struggle with—and children can bond by hugging or brushing the animal. This non-verbal communication can bring children out of a shell.

Physical and Sensory Therapy

Horse riding requires balance, so it exercises muscles. It also helps develop spatial awareness through the vestibular organ of the inner ear. The rocking motion of the horse helps decrease stimming behaviors and even stimulates learning receptors in the brain. It also triggers the production of oxytocin or the “cuddle hormone,” the body’s natural painkiller. As many autistic children have co-existing illnesses, this is a useful way to promote drug-free wellness.

The “cuddle hormone” boost can reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. The effect that horses can have on autism patients is so dramatic that some non-verbal children have become verbal after sessions with them. Parents report that after equine therapy, children begin interacting, sharing their toys with others, and allowing physical touch.

There are lots of other uses of horse therapy. In Arizona, there are available equine assisted counseling programs for children and adults with mental health problems, PTSD, ADHD, marital problems, and more. Horse therapy opens up a unique path for personal growth and positivity in a safe space, an aid to conventional counseling and life coaching.